Interview with Will Byington!!

2 Jan
Will Byington Profile Images

Will Byington Profile Images

When you think of publications such as, New York Times, Boston Globe, Billboard Magazine or ESPN the Magazine, you probably don’t think of Will Byington.  But you should!  I mean, an event photographer with that many big names under his belt must be worth remembering, right?!

Will Byington is a…well…let’s call him an “event” photographer and a Chicago native, whose success is rooted in skill (of course), hard-work and his ability to network like a champ! 🙂  You can read a bit more about Will here…but first…the interview!

How did you get involved in photography?

I fell into it by accident.  In college I took an elective photography course which I enjoyed, but my background was in radio and entertainment.  I spent a year in LA after college, then went on the road with a band called Cowboy Mouth for three years.  For the most part, I worked merch, though I would take some pictures and post them on a website that I created to update my friends and family.  Before long, some of those images sold – I made about $100 in one month.

Life moved on, and I moved back to Chicago.  Selling those images stuck with me, and in 2004, I decided to really try my hand at the business of photography.

While it is easier to call you an “event” photog, it’s not completely accurate.  You seem to be a jack-of all-trades.  What is your favorite subject to photograph?

Everything has its own appeal.  I love the challenge of live bands…the crowds, the lights…it all changes second to second.  I like travel and anything sports.  But I also enjoy portraits.  It’s a great compliment when someone really appreciates an image you have taken of them.

Where would someone start if they wanted to become an event photog?

“Don’t do it! We don’t need the competition!”…haha…just kidding.  Actually, I think photography is a very accessible art, and I encourage people to try it.  As for where to start…

Well, first things first, don’t go into it expecting much money.  For example, while there is value to having your name attached to large publications or big bands, nowadays, because photography is so accessible, that value is not monetary.  It comes instead in the form of brand building, a good reputation and buzz.

That being said, if you want to get involved in event photography, start small and never underestimate the importance of networking.  For example, if your passion is music photography, focus on smaller bands and go to local clubs without photography restrictions.  Those venues have several advantages – you have the flexibility to move around and be creative, which is impossible in a packed show – and often you have the ability to talk to the bands.  I encourage people to make those connections because you never know where those bands will be in a week/month/year.

Kid Rock Cruise

Kid Rock Cruise

What are some things about the event photographer lifestyle people should know?

I think most people have the wrong perception of what we do – we aren’t treated like VIPs, we aren’t partying with celebrities.  For example, if you have a pass to photograph a big band, you are escorted into the show.  Normally you are restricted to the pit, though occasionally you can work around the sound board.  You have three songs to get your shots, and then you are escorted out.  You never meet the bands, and most bands never see your photos.

To some degree, the exception to this is the Sixthman cruises because that is the nature of the event – it’s meant to be interactive – but I’m normally so busy I don’t have time to get close to the bands.  Love that I can go on 10-12 cruises a year, but they are 14 hour work days.  By the end of a cruise, I average 15,000 photos and…well…let’s put it this way.  I got back from the KISS boat on Sunday.  It’s a week and a half later and I’m still sorting through the shots.  Being an event photographer is a lot of work.

Another key to success is being organized from the get go…have a good system, label things…it’s something I’m always looking to improve in myself.

You also need to be self-motivated.  You are your own boss, which makes for a love-hate relationship.  I try to fire myself all of the time, but then I have to go re-hire myself or nothing gets done. Haha

And finally, be financially grounded.  My income works on a cyclical market…I’m making good money right now, but January and February might not be as profitable so I have to plan and budget.  It’s important to have a good handle on what your costs really are (Zack Arias put out a great blog post once about the costs actually associated with photographing a wedding) and understand that as a freelancer, you may not get paid on time so be prepared for that.

In life, they say its who you know…what impact would you say networking has had on your career?

Networking is 90% of the job.  I’m always trying to get better as a photographer, of course, but I think it’s my networking that gives me an edge.  That and not being stuck in a niche – I won’t turn away work because it’s not a Cubs game or a concert.  That versatility helps me.

Social media – especially Facebook – has been huge for me.  I like that it’s so interactive and makes everyone more accessible.

In your opinion, besides networking, what are some other keys to success that photogs should think about?

I’m going to reference one of the photographers that I admire, Chase Jarvis.  He always says the best camera is the one you have with you, and I think that’s so true.  I think it’s important to always be in a photography mindset…to practice and try new things.  I love experimenting with my Lumix PS – it’s lighter and less cumbersome than my dSLR.  I also use my iPhone all of the time.  In fact, I even sell canvas prints from iPhone photos – that’s income I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t always have a camera handy.

I really believe that everyone can be a photographer is they’re willing to put time into it.  It’s an everyman’s art, a creative outlet for anyone who wants to learn it.  Just find something you like to shoot and see where you can take it.

That’s one of the things I love about instagram feeds.  Sometimes I just scroll through and say, “Damn…that’s a good photo”.  Of course, for a lot of people it’s just a way to say they were there – quantity over quality – but for the people who enjoy it, they can excel if they put the time in.

First time being published?

I think the very first time was on the back cover of a CD, and after that…well…McDonalds.  The McDonalds in the Loop in Chicago purchased my images for a display.  Burger King also used some of my photos for a wallpaper collage.  In hindsight, I probably should have charged more for that. Haha

You have a long list of publications under your belt.  As a freelance photographer, what are your thoughts on that?

Well, I’ll reference another influential photographer, David Bergman.  He was the photographer for Bon Jovi…he took the gigipan during President Obama’s inauguration…he has his work in Sports Illustrated.  Despite his credentials, he has never gotten a call from someone wanting to hire him because they saw a magazine cover he shot.  Again, most publications don’t pay much these days, but they do help you build your name and create a perception of value.

That being said, it is a goal of mine to be published in Rolling Stone.

(I think that was a hint.)

Do you have any current projects you want people to know about?  Workshops?

I put out a book called “We Are Cubs Fans”.  It would make a great gift for the baseball fan in your life. 🙂

Also, updating my website.  If anyone out there is good at it, I would love the help!

Best way for people to find you?

4 Responses to “Interview with Will Byington!!”

  1. Dave January 2, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    Really nice interview, Shannon – plan to have my photography students read it. Thanks for visiting Gwichyaa Zhee.

    • seeingspotsphoto January 15, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

      That’s great to hear! Will was very nice and generous with his time and experience…and I’m so excited that other people will be able to get something out of this!

  2. Nareen Luz Rivas January 3, 2013 at 12:40 am #

    Great interview! It included a lot of good advice.

    • seeingspotsphoto January 15, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

      I’m glad you got something out of it! He really has had an interesting career so far. I was very excited when he agreed to share his experiences with all of us. 🙂

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